The Press Council considered a complaint about the publication of an article in the Northern District Times in print on 23 November 2016, headed “Building’s high energy surrounds are too good to ignore”, with a similar headline online.
The article appeared in the publication’s real estate magazine. It gave the names and ages of the complainant and her partner, an architect, and said they “bought a north facing studio apartment” in a property development. The article provided details of that purchase, including the name and suburb of the development, stating the apartment was next to a named square, that it was a studio apartment, and giving details of the apartment’s aspect, floor, and price. This article was then republished by other websites within the media group. The article was placed below another much larger article about the development.
The complainant said the article was incorrect in stating that she and her partner bought the property together as she was the sole purchaser. The complainant said the article infringed her privacy. She did not see or approve of the content of the article before publication, and did not consent to publication of her full name, age, and the location and price of her apartment. The complainant said although her partner gave a brief telephone interview to the publication, he had informed her that he asked the publication not to identify her by name.
The complainant said after publication, she asked the publication to request the republishing websites to remove the article and those within the media group did so. However, the article remained published on a third party’s website and the publication did not respond to her when she sought its assistance to have it removed.
The publication said the details relating to the complainant and her partner were provided to it as a ‘buyer case study’ by the developer’s public relations company, which informed it that the complainant’s partner was someone who had already purchased one of the units in the development, and was happy to discuss it and be photographed. In an initial contact with the partner, a photograph of the partner was taken for use in the article.
The publication said the complainant’s partner took part in a telephone interview with its journalist, and the partner must have been aware he was speaking to a reporter preparing an article for publication about the purchase. In that context, he freely provided information to the publication which was then published in good faith. The publication said throughout the telephone interview the complainant’s partner spoke using the collective “we”. At no time did he indicate the details provided about himself, the complainant, or the purchase were not to be used or the complainant’s permission was required before publication of the article.
The publication also said as soon as the complainant contacted it, it immediately deleted the article from digital channels within its media group and removed traces of it. The publication said the website where the article remains published is an online aggregator of articles, is not associated with its media group, and it has no control over any material appearing on that website.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1), to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading (General Principle 2), and to avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 5).
On the information available, the Council accepts the complainant’s statement that she is the owner of the property, and the inference that the complainant and her partner were both purchasers was not correct. However, the publication relied on information provided to it by the developer’s public relations company. The Council considers it was reasonable for the publication to expect the public relations company would know who the purchaser was, and that the person with whom they facilitated contact would be the purchaser. The Council also considers it was reasonable for the publication to rely on the manner in which the complainant’s partner discussed the purchase and the circumstance in which he never stated he was not a purchaser. In the circumstances, the Council considers the publication took reasonable steps to ensure accuracy in reporting as it did. Accordingly, General Principle 1 was not breached.
As to taking remedial action, although the Council accepts the complainant was the purchaser, the complainant and her partner were in a relationship. The partner had some practical involvement in the purchase, and he acted as if he was a purchaser. The Council is not satisfied the inaccuracy was significant in the circumstances. In addition, the Council notes the publication took steps to remove the article and its traces from its associated channels. The Council concludes that the publication took reasonable steps to take remedial action. Accordingly, the publication did not breach General Principle 2.
The Council notes that neither the publication nor the complainant provided direct information as to whether consent to publish the information about the complainant and the purchase was requested. In the circumstances, the Council is not able to reject the publication’s claim that it reasonably believed the complainant was content for the material to be published. In any event, the Council notes the information published about the complainant as purchaser of the property is publicly available through Land and Property Information NSW. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the publication took reasonable steps to avoid intruding on the complainant’s reasonable expectations of privacy and as such, did not breach General Principle 5.
Relevant Council Standards
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
1. Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.
2. Provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
5. Avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.